My Story of Sexual Abuse
Originally posted to Faith Restored on July 19, 2019
+JMJ+ This blog post was not an easy one to write and, to be honest, I have been hesitating to publish it. Most people who follow me on social media are aware that I suffered several months of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest but, except for testifying in front of a courtroom during the rape trial, I have never publicly shared my story of abuse. Rest assured, I am not going into too much explicit detail here. However, this may not be easy to read for some of you. I hope that, by sharing a part of my story, anyone else who has found themselves in a similar situation will know that they are not alone and I hope they can feel validated by reading this. I also hope to highlight the process of sexual grooming so that perhaps others will better understand how it works.
I used to love the summer months but that changed the summer I was sexually abused. Even close to 20 years later, I become more depressed and “moody” as summer approaches. I’m someone who remembers certain times of year and particular dates. Even my body feels a bit “off” during the summer as if it’s remembering what it suffered. I was 15 years old when I was offered my first paid job as a secretary on Saturday afternoons in my parish rectory. A newly ordained priest, the now-defrocked Fr. Kelvin Iguabita Rodriguez, had just come to our parish. He hailed from Columbia where he had taught himself English in order to come to the United States to study for the priesthood. Fr. Kelvin was young, popular and well-liked almost immediately. He seemed enthusiastic about the priesthood and the parish. When I began my new job (my first paid job as a teenager), he proved himself to be friendly and helpful.
I had the unfortunate experience of getting to know the real Fr. Kelvin, the monster behind the mask.
He didn’t do anything right away. Several weeks went by after I started my job before he made his first real “move.” One of the most difficult parts of my story (and many other abuse stories) that some people have a difficult time accepting and understanding is that of the sexual grooming phenomena.
“Why did you keep going back?”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“Why didn’t you run?”
Why didn’t you try to hurt him?”
These are all questions I’ve been asked over the years. In the beginning, I asked myself the same questions over and over too.
The goal of grooming is to gain a victim’s trust. A predator chooses a victim and slowly takes control. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just like a spider patiently waiting for the right morsel to come along, a predator lays in wait. It may be a long time before he/she even lays a finger on his/her victim. They spend time observing, creating a plan, and slowly manipulating the victim until the moment seems right to strike.
Fr. Kelvin took advantage of my schedule working at the rectory. Saturday afternoons were quiet. He took advantage of the fact that I was mostly alone in an office that was somewhat out of view – he would pull me into an adjacent room that was not visible from the main hallway. He took advantage of the fact that I was a struggling 15-year-old girl – shy, naive, awkward, and struggling to fit in at school. I saw Fr. Kelvin as someone I could trust and so I told him my “woes.” I was having an especially difficult time because a boy who had lived in my neighborhood years before had briefly come back into my life due to the death of a mutual friend. I ran into “Bob” at the wake and all the memories of him inappropriately touching me when no one was looking when I was no more than 7 or 8 came flooding back. I had tried so hard to forget but the memories had lay festering in my mind and heart for years. Something deep within me was urging me to tell my parents what I had suffered, and so I sought advice from Fr. Kelvin. He listened, asked if I was ok, and a few minutes later he said to me, “I don’t think you should tell your parents. It would just get them upset and you don’t want to get them upset.”
Ok. If you say so.
The next weekend I was writing in my journal. Because Saturdays were usually quiet, all I had to do was answer the phone, door, and finish whatever paperwork had been left. When there was nothing to do, I had been told I could do my school work, read, practice my violin, or whatever else I wanted to do. Fr. Kelvin snuck up behind me – this was becoming a part of his ritual. He knew when I’d be there and he’d hang out in the kitchen until I was in my office. Father would sneak up behind me and whisper in my ear, “Hello.” It was creepy and it made me jump but he’d laugh so I’d laugh thinking he was just teasing (and maybe I shouldn’t be so “sensitive” anyway).
One day I had no work to do so I decided to do some writing. I loved to journal. Suddenly, I heard that all too familiar creepy voice and felt hot breath on my neck. “Is that your diary? Am I in there? Can I read it?” I slammed my journal shut and awkwardly and shyly stammered something like, “No…its personal ” He playfully tried to pull it from my hands and I forcefully put my arms over it. That’s when the first physical contact happened. Before I realized what was happening, his hands were caressing my arms, back, and came around briefly to my chest. I vaguely remember looking down and seeing a chastity ring (a cross) on his finger, a ring which I noticed he stopped wearing not too many weeks after that.
I think I may have stopped breathing for a moment.
What the heck was happening?
It happened so quickly that I wasn’t even sure it happened. It was over before I could even wrap my brain around what he was doing. Fr. Kelvin went on with his day like nothing had happened. He was his usual cheerful self and he waved good-bye as he went off to hear confessions and say the 4PM Mass that afternoon.
That week, I was tormented. My torment grew worse and I quickly found myself in a deep, dark pit of despair and disbelief as the abuse grew worse week after week. I was so relieved on the days he wasn’t there! As the car approached the church (either my parents or my brother would drop me off), my heart would beat faster when the rectory came into view, my palms would become sweaty, and I would start praying. “Please keep him away, please keep him away.”
Every time he was there it was the same. He’d try to sneak up on me, although I quickly stopped sitting with my back to the doorway. If I wasn’t sitting, he’d enter by another doorway. It was as though he was just waiting for me to arrive. He’d pull me into the other room or say he had work for me to do (like laundry) down the hall and so I would reluctantly follow.
My reaction was the same each time. I would freeze. My body would go limp as he put his dirty hands wherever he wanted. I remember how pointy and sharp his fingernails felt. They hurt. He would take my hand and forcefully put it where he wanted it but I would resist moving my hand as he wanted me to. He would become more persistent and more aggressive. I vividly remember the smell and feel of his breath and his cologne.
If someone entered the rectory, he’d quickly leave me and sneak off down the hall, coming back a little while later appearing completely normal. It was like dealing with two different personalities and it left me feeling so confused.
My abuser did things to me that I didn’t understand, things I had never heard of. “Lewd and lascivious acts” were what they were referred to at the trial a few years later. Sometimes my body responded normally in a “that feels good” kind of way and I was ashamed of it. I was so, so ashamed! My stomach still goes in knots when I think about it.
One of my biggest fears was losing my virginity. My purity was something I held so dear. I specifically begged St. Maria Goretti for help but I would also focus on a small statue (no bigger than 12 inches or so) of the Blessed Mother on top of a cabinet and beg her for help. Sometimes I just repeated “Help, help, help, help. Make it stop,” over and over in my head.
Since my family almost always attended the 8AM Sunday Mass the next day, I would sometimes see Fr. Kelvin there if he was offering Mass. He would shake my parent’s hands as we left the church and he would chat away. I was always amazed and confused by how calm and collected he was! During Mass, I would sometimes catch him staring at me. His dark eyes seemed to bear into my soul, taunting me as if to say, “You’re mine and there’s nothing you can do about it.” The memory of his eyes still makes me cringe. I vividly recall the time at a wedding reception (I had played the violin at a friend’s wedding) when I happened to turn around and Fr. Kelvin was staring at me from across the room like a wild animal looks at its prey. I felt as though an entirely different person was looking at me. His stare gave me the chilling sense of something very evil and it horrified me. I had never felt so frightened in my life.
One day, he attempted to vaginally rape me. He didn’t get very far because he, “didn’t want to hurt me.” I was, after all, a virgin and so “small and closed” but he still “wanted to be my first.” He developed the nickname “you little thing” and he would call me that even in front of my family. “Hi, you little thing! How are you today?”
I was miserable. Humiliated. I wondered if dying would be easier than living. Even in the place I should have felt safe and comforted – my own church in front of my Lord and Savior – I felt vulnerable, ashamed, and so alone and confused.
The stress caused my monthly cycle to get really messed up. One month in particular, right after he tried to vaginally rape me, I was really late for my period and I started freaking out and worrying that I was pregnant. In hindsight, and after talking to my doctor a few years later, the likelihood was very slim. But, at that time, I worried. I sat on the toilet one day and punched my stomach as hard as I could over and over trying to get myself to start bleeding. That memory makes me cringe. It was around this time that Fr. Kelvin also randomly said he wanted me to have his baby raising my anxiety and fear about getting pregnant.
“Lord, help me. Make it stop!” I would cry in my head.
During the times I was having my period, I would tell him in the hopes that it would gross him out and he’d leave me one. Nope. Didn’t work. He wouldn’t do certain things but he’d just resort to doing other things.
The only other person who was regularly in the rectory during those times was the pastor who was usually up in his room. Year later, I found out he was an alcoholic. That explained why he seemed “off” when he’d head over to the church for confessions and Mass. He was usually a very kind, sweet man but some days he was unusually impatient and sluggish. It was a very difficult day indeed when I had to try to wrap my brain around the fact that the pastor was upstairs getting smashed while I was being sexually abused. He has since passed away but it was years before I was able to forgive him.
One Saturday, a parishioner my family had known for years stopped by the rectory. He didn’t know why (I made some lame excuse about not wanting to be alone), but I begged him to stay. Fr. Kelvin appeared in the hallway, saw the man, and walked away. I was spared that day.
I felt isolated and alone. Fr. Kelvin even routinely “advised” me to stay away from certain individuals. If I was talking to someone at church (say, a friend from school), he’d insert himself into the conversation. He also “advised” me to not tell my parents about my struggles at school. This is all a part of sexual grooming by the way. He wanted me to feel as isolated as possible.
I hated myself so much and felt so much guilt and shame over what had happened that I assumed everyone else would blame me. Classic victim psychology – “it’s my fault, everyone will blame me.” I couldn’t even tell my parents, the two people I loved most – the two people who loved me most. They had always told us to go to them if someone (it didn’t matter who it was) dared to touch us inappropriately. I had always trusted them and always thought I would tell them. When the neighborhood boy had touched me, I didn’t want him to get into trouble because I felt badly for him (he had a deeply troubled life). With Fr. Kelvin, not only did I not want to “cause trouble” but he had manipulated my trust and isolated me to the point that he controlled me. I felt I couldn’t get out of the chains that bound me.
I wondered what I had said, what I had done to “lead him on.” Was it how I was dressed? Of course, even if I had been dressed provocatively, there was no excuse for his behavior but, at the time, I wasn’t thinking that way. I typically dressed in long, well below the knee skirts and tops with modest necklines. I didn’t wear makeup and I frequently wore a scapular and a blessed medal. Trying to figure out what part I had played in “attracting” him was torture. I thought God must hate me. In confession (I had never hated confession so much as I did then!), I would confess to having committed sexual sins. I assumed that, because I didn’t try harder to stop him, because I didn’t punch him or kick him, I must be guilty. I tried to fight back but I was so frozen that I just couldn’t. If I tried to resist, he would become more forceful and rough. I was never beaten nor did I receive any bruises but his control over me was so powerful that I was frightened at what could happen.
The abuse was a regular part of my life for about six months. My grades in school were suffering and so I used that as an excuse to quit the job. However, Fr. Kelvin found other opportunities to get to me even after I had quit. In the spring, he was transferred to a new assignment and I figured that was the end of things. The unexpected death of my oldest brother a summer later was what caused me to break my silence and tell my story. That was when I finally started to see a light in my dark world and could finally begin to heal. The summer after that, I faced my rapist in court where he was found guilty and sentenced to 8-10 years in prison. He was eventually defrocked. Coincidentally, Kelvin served time with none other than Ronald Paquin, the priest responsible for sexually abusing many boys in my hometown. Paquin also happens to be the priest who baptized me as an infant. Strange coincidence.
There is still a lot that I have left out – there’s just too much to fit into one blog post. I really just wanted readers to get a better idea of what sexual grooming looks like and a little bit about what a victim might go through. When I I hear stories of sexual abuse, my heart breaks. Even if the situation is different, I feel I can relate to victims on so many different levels. Sadly, all too often I hear the disbelief of people who can’t fathom that the victim went back again and again, sometimes for years. Even today, with all strides we’ve made in victim and abuser psychology, so many people don’t “get it” and blame the victim. This needs to stop. The blame lies with the abuser, not the abused. “Didn’t you see it coming?” No, I didn’t. My abuser hid behind a mask, as do all abusers. Abusers show us what they want us to see. They are manipulative, calculating, and cunning and they seek to pull their victims into a dark, hidden, and silent world.
If you are unfamiliar with the grooming process, I encourage you to do some research on sexual grooming. Here’s the link to some very useful information
My experiences are not pleasant to hear and I can assure you they are not pleasant to write about. There is so much pain in digging deep to remember and bring forth these memories to share. I feel disgusting just talking about them and, honestly, my skin is crawling so much that I feel like I need to go take a shower. I hope that what I’ve shared with you here can (in some small way) help you, a loved one, or someone you may know who has suffered abuse.
Please know that if you have been abused, there is hope and you are not alone! Please know that you have great value and you are precious. I know that’s not always easy to believe. However, as alone and abandoned as I felt during that time in my life, in hindsight I know that I was never truly alone. There is no way I could have come as far as I have in my healing journey if it weren’t for my faith in God. That’s something I’m sharing a lot more about in my devotional for Our Sunday Visitor! Please pray for me as I continue to write it – it’s been a bit of a struggle recently due to my health issues, but I am trying my best. I pray the Holy Spirit can use my story to help others.
Please pray for abuse survivors in a special way, especially those who are unable to come forward. We pray that Our Lord helps them to be released from bondage!